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People favour those from own social group when helping others, research suggests

Melanie May | 16 March 2023 | News

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People who want to help others are more likely to reduce their own personal welfare to benefit someone else from their group rather than someone from another group, research from Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) has found.

The study, undertaken by WU researcher Susann Fiedler, used eye-tracking technology to record gaze behaviour of participants while they actively make a decision as to whether or not they should share their own resources with another person.

Fiedler and her colleagues also found that individuals whose partner is a member of their own group placed larger weight on others’ outcomes, and invested more time and effort in gathering information before they made a decision.

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This, she notes, suggests that people are more concerned about the consequences of their decisions when members of their own group are involved and affected. 

The research also revealed a correlation between the desire to help others and the amount of effort that people put into decision-making: people with stronger prosocial preferences (those that want to help others) took more time to make decisions and inspected more information before making those choices.

Commenting on the study and its findings, Fiedler said:

“The findings of this study shed light on how we as people make decisions that impact others. And, specifically, the study delves into the fascinating subject of how the extent to which we care about the resources of others is impacted by certain contexts, such as social groupings. Interestingly, the study also calls into question the long-held assumption that cooperation and generosity are intuitive decisions made fast and without much deliberation, exploring how much effort many invest on information search when making a decision that maximises their own resources, benefits their own team, or supports a rivalling group.”

The paper, Prosocial Preferences Condition Decision Effort and Ingroup Biased Generosity in Intergroup Decision-Making, has been published in Scientific Reports and can be accessed here.

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